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Marvel Settles Creator Copyright Lawsuits – But Not Steve Ditko

Marvel has abandoned lawsuits and settled claims made from Larry Lieber Don Heck, Gene Colan and Don Rico. But no, not Steve Ditko.

Marvel has reached settlements with four artists or their estates who attempted to reclaim copyright interests in Iron Man, Ant-Man, Captain Marvel, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Blade. On behalf of these parties, attorney Marc Toberoff brought such copyright termination attempts in regard to these properties.  Marvel in turn filed lawsuits against Larry Lieber and the estates of Don Heck, Gene Colan, and Don Rico. However, no settlement has been reached in the case of the estate of Steve Ditko, which seeks to reclaim his share of Doctor Strange and Spider-Man copyrights.

Marvel Settle Lieber, Heck, Colan, Don Rico Suits But Not Steve Ditko
Art by Marie Severin.

The original filing read;

It would be hard to find a better example of this than the amici who worked as freelancers from home, on their own steam, with no contract, no financial security, and no employment benefits, but without whom Marvel might not even be in business today. These prolific freelance writers and artists, who redefined the impecunious comic book business in the 1960's are literal poster-children for the termination right, exemplifying the very imbalance Congress sought to rectify. One need only look at the billion-dollar franchises these freelancers were instrumental in creating—Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Dr. Strange, Falcon, Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Blade—but have zero financial benefits from, to understand the importance of resolving the issues presented, justifying this Court's review. The pervasive use of the "instance and expense" test to eradicate the termination rights of such freelancers is not only unmoored from the 1909 Act, but it invites historical revisionism since the termination right does not vest until fifty-six years after publication. 17 U.S.C. § 304(c)(3). Corporate behemoths like Marvel, which were built on the success of such creations, but barely had one or two employees at the time it purchased such freelance material (for a pittance), now use their current stature to impose corporate authorship of "work for hire" under conditions that bore no resemblance to this, and an so-called "test" that enables them to do so. Inevitably, application of the malleable "instance and expense" test nearly always ends in a finding of "work for hire," with results that are often counterintuitive and unfair.

Marvel then sued the creators and estates, stating that the comics and characters were work-for-hire, that Marvel owns them in perpetuity, and that the artists couldn't reclaim rights in them under the Copyright Act. Under that act, a creator can terminate a copyright assignment after decades in certain circumstances.

In regards to these specific claims, Reuters reports that a Disney spokesperson and an attorney for the artists said they had reached an "amicable resolution."

However, Marvel and the estate of Steve Ditko have not reached a settlement over the disposition of the copyrights for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. Reuters reports that previously, both Marvel and the artists or their estates, including the Ditko estate had made motions for summary judgment ahead of these matters going to trial.  With matters between the Ditko estate and Marvel still ongoing, it does not appear that oral arguments have been made on those motions so far.


Marvel Settles With Four Creators Family's But Not Steve Ditko's

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Rich JohnstonAbout Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
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